Just because you’re a Social Media Strategist, doesn’t mean you’re any good at strategy…”

It’s been said that 85% of the peo­ple who work in social media have been in the indus­try for less than two years. I think it was LinkedIn who first sug­gest­ed this, but it often explains why there is so much bad advice float­ing around, so many poor­ly devised strate­gic plans and so much mon­ey wast­ed on failed cam­paigns.

The thing with being a social media strate­gist is that it’s believed (in dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing cir­cles any­way), to be quite a sexy title, and yet it is one that requires absolute­ly no for­mal qual­i­fi­ca­tions or estab­lished process­es for devel­op­ment. Hence all the social media ninja’s, guru’s mavens and wiz­ards that we encounter on a dai­ly basis. The prob­lem here is that this lack of expe­ri­ence often caus­es a mis­un­der­stand­ing of what an actu­al social strat­e­gy is. In my opin­ion, the mis­un­der­stand­ing isn’t com­pli­cat­ed, it is sim­ply this…

Strat­e­gy Does NOT Involve Emo­tion”

You would think that this is obvi­ous. Busi­ness lead­ers have under­stood for years that the best strate­gies are absolute­ly devoid of emo­tion, bias or agen­da. They are not shaped by the opin­ion of an indi­vid­ual but around the evi­dence and insight gained from work­ing close­ly with an organ­i­sa­tion. [Re-read that last sen­tence because it is REALLY important!!!] The issue here for social media strate­gists is that one of the main things they believe to be true of social media often blurs some bound­aries…

Social Media Users Share Emo­tions Not Facts”.

It’s a great quote, one that I believe came from research by Jon­ah Berg­er at Whar­ton Uni­ver­si­ty, (I even used it myself when I built the Pur­pose Pyra­mid), but it has no place in the strate­gic process. Emo­tion has every­thing to do with social psy­chol­o­gy and why peo­ple behave the way that they do online, but that has noth­ing to do with strat­e­gy. Face­book even has a term for cam­paigns that are built upon emo­tion: “Social by Design”.

Many social strate­gists have migrat­ed out of the adver­tis­ing or brand comms indus­try, which goes some way towards explain­ing their reliance upon “fluffy” aware­ness met­rics. I’m talk­ing about the kind that are focused sole­ly on engage­ment — the likes of which you often hear when dis­cussing the rel­a­tive suc­cess of a TV, press or out­door cam­paign.

I believe in Love­marks as much as the next brand strate­gist (the term refers to an emo­tion­al attach­ment with a brand and was coined by Saatchi CEO, Kevin Roberts), but it’s easy to con­fuse an “emo­tion­al strat­e­gy” that will raise aware­ness, with a busi­ness strat­e­gy that dri­ves sales. Look at these two exam­ples of strate­gic process­es and it’s easy to see why peo­ple con­fuse the two (you’ll notice the sec­ond ver­sion isn’t as sexy but involves a spe­cif­ic ACTION plan):

Love­marks : A Brand Com­mu­ni­ca­tions “Strat­e­gy”

Customer-Based Brand Equity model (CBBE, Keller, 2002, & Kotler/Pfoertsch, 2006), modified by Pyramid
Source: Cus­tomer-Based Brand Equi­ty mod­el (CBBE, Keller, 2002, & Kotler/Pfoertsch, 2006), mod­i­fied by Pyra­mid. blog.pyramid.se

A “Tra­di­tion­al” Strate­gic Process

Source: visionsforireland.com
Source: visionsforireland.com

The prob­lem with all of this is that whilst good social media peo­ple under­stand that great cam­paigns are built on emo­tion (in order to get some­one to share, RT or view it), the strat­e­gy that cam­paign is found­ed on should NOT be built on emo­tion.

Strat­e­gy Shaped by Emo­tion = House Built upon Sand* etc. etc…

  1. Look at the data
  2. Find out exact­ly what it is telling you
  3. Build your strat­e­gy on that rock* instead.


Your boss will love you for it.

* (Apolo­gies for the bib­li­cal anal­o­gy).

6 Responses to Just because you’re a Social Media Strategist, doesn’t mean you’re any good at strategy…”

  1. Mel Carson says:

    Nice work Jere­my. What I find when I’m help­ing com­pa­nies with their social media strate­gies is they have sim­ply nev­er had one. They thought they did, but actu­al­ly it was just a list of tac­tics. I’m a lit­tle gob­s­macked how many (some real­ly quite large) can’t give me an overview of their brand, ethics, com­pa­ny cul­ture etc. You need that to plough into the vision, mis­sion and tac­tics. They help you craft your social voice. And it’s that voice cou­pled with help­ful, rel­e­vant, agile and delight­ful con­tent that cre­ates the emo­tion­al con­nec­tion at the tac­ti­cal lev­el.

  2. The role of social media strate­gist will dis­ap­pear as lead­ers in all orga­ni­za­tions assume respon­si­bil­i­ty for new social busi­ness par­a­digms. The focus will shift from social media, which is gen­er­al­ly used in ref­er­ence to the tool set, and will focus more on social tech­nolo­gies.

  3. Dennis Yu says:

    Jere­my– well-put.

    I’ve even go so far as to say that strat­e­gy and goal opti­miza­tion are sim­i­lar activ­i­ties in social.

    With no goals for social, there can be no strat­e­gy.

    With no mea­sure­ment of the rev­enue fun­nel, there can be no opti­miza­tion.

    Most social media strate­gists are com­mu­ni­ty man­agers who don’t yet have the pow­er to ampli­fy con­tent, direct ad spend, or orga­nize across mul­ti­ple chan­nels.

    It’s impos­si­ble to be strate­gic if you oper­ate in only one chan­nel– even if it’s as big as Face­book.

  4. Pingback: Social Media Brand Managers and Tragedy

  5. Brian Hardie says:

    great arti­cle — seems that social exper­tise is in the eye of the behold­er for some as not enough organ­i­sa­tions are switched on yet to opti­mis­ing the cus­tomer expe­ri­ence and inte­grat­ing social media ful­ly with oth­er chan­nels. Ulti­mate­ly, cus­tomers choose and organ­i­sa­tions need to lis­ten, under­stand, con­sid­er deeply before jump­ing in. Pow­er to you guys though as by talk­ing and pub­li­cis­ing best prac­tice, over­all knowl­edge increas­es.

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